Rafael Torch

As some of you may already be aware,  Rafael Torch–award-winning writer, teacher, and MAPH alum–passed away on December 12 at the age of 36, following a courageous four year battle with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Torch attended the University of Chicago as a MAPH student from 2004-2005, during which time he earned numerous acclaims for his writing, including the Illinois Arts Council Literary Award. A writer of uncommon inspiration and intensity, his MAPH thesis, a memoir entitled The Garcia Boy, is an immense four hundred fifty pages, and chronicles the experiences of two families through three generations, following them as  they join together from divergent origins.

Torch was also a committed and passionate educator. While teaching at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, The Latin School of Chicago, and The Meadows School in Las Vegas, NV, Rafael influenced hundreds of minds, challenging his students to rise to their greatest potential. As evidenced by some of his writing in Contrary Magazine, his students had a profound impact on his life and he cared for them deeply.

Torch’s writings have appeared  in many journals including Crab Orchard Review, Antioch Review, the North American review, as well as other on and offline publications. The Winter 2012 issue of Contrary Magazine is dedicated to Torch, who documented his four year battle with cancer in the journal. Contrary editor and MAPH’s Writing Advisor, Jeff McMahon, recalls his friend:


When I learned in December of Rafael Torch’s death, I sent his obituary to friends and colleagues with a simple note at the top: “I don’t have words yet.”

And I still don’t.

When I put together a tribute at Contrary, the literary magazine where Rafael published his last writings, I borrowed a poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay—”Dirge Without Music”—to avoid writing a dirge of my own, so empty was I of music.

And I know why.

Nothing I write could approach the power of Rafael Torch’s own words, in his final months of life, as he illuminated the way, for all of us, to the doorway through which we all must eventually pass.

No tribute penned by the living could speak as eloquently, as clearly, as truly.

We could describe Rafael’s death as “tragic”—a bright soul and brilliant talent taken from us—or “untimely”—he was 36, with a new wife and a new baby—but what impoverished substitutes those words are for the vast, bottomless feeling we encounter in the stories and posts Rafael wrote himself.

I’ll just add one paragraph you won’t find in any published journals. It’s from Rafael’s last email to me. His subject line was “News.”

Rafael Torch:

“so. friend. the fat lady has sung. i’m in the process of telling my friends and family that we’ve entered the absurd and very, very weird part of cancer treatment — getting ready to die. i want to start the conversation because i want it to all be rational as possible even in the radically irrational face of death. i’m a vet now. been four years since i’ve begun fighting. i’m a different man than i was four years ago when they told me i had cancer. i’m afraid, yes, most definitely, but not afraid of the things i’ll lose. lately i’m trying to wrap my head around the end. wrap my mind around the nothing. wrapping my faith around the very primal notion that there is just, quite simply nothing. wrap consciousness around the void. and so lately, i’ve learned that’s a fool’s game, too. ha! funny, funny, funny thing life is, jeff. enjoy it, man, because we really only have this one, as we are now. it’s forever, as much as nothingness or faith’s promise is forever.”


Because education played an integral role in Rafael’s life, preferred form of remembrance may be directed to a scholarship fund for his 4-month-old son, Rocco James Torch. Rocco’s scholarship fund is set up through The First Midwest Bank. Checks to be made payable to Rocco James Torch and mailed to:

First Midwest Bank
FBO Rocco James Torch
220 W Main Street
Morris, IL 60450



Writings available to read at RafaelTorch.com


One thought on “Rafael Torch

  1. Tari Torch Sweeney

    I happened upon this and want to say thank you. I am impressed by this tribute to Rafa. I’m his Mom. He fought. And his life truly meant something to a lot of people. At the funeral, so many of his students came to me, his father, Tom, and sister, Caitlin to pay condolences. And during those moments, they told the absolute best stories about him. They were so funny, and heartwarming, and so wonderful to know that this was how they were always going to remember him. I will miss him every moment of every day for the rest of my life. But, I know he lived a full life. We are so proud of him.

    Tari Torch Sweeney

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